Black Mountain Trail to the Fire Lookout (Idyllwild, CA)
|In This Guide|
|Total Distance||8 miles (12.9 km)|
|Hike Time||4-5 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||2,820 feet (860m)|
|Highest Elevation||7,772 feet (2369m)|
|Fees & Permits||None|
|Alerts & Closures (?)||San Jacinto Ranger District|
Located just outside of Idyllwild, CA in San Bernardino National Forest, the Black Mountain Trail hike to the fire lookout is a hidden gem. Often overshadowed by hikes like Tahquitz, it offers a healthy mountain climb, great panoramic views, a fire lookout, AND a secret grove of Giant Sequoia trees. You heard that correctly.
Getting to the Trailhead
First off, there are about 50 million “Black Mountain Trails” out there, so make sure you are using the one designated as 2E35 in San Bernardino National Forest before the GPS routes you to South Dakota. Use this trailhead address:
Black Mountain Trail 2E35, 4S57, 2E35, Banning, CA 92220
There are no bathrooms or water at the trailhead.
Gear For the Hike
The trail is a legit mountain climb, so you should use proper hiking gear on this hike. Trekking poles help you going up and down the steep slopes. Like most of the high mountains of Southern California, in the summer it can get very hot, and in the winter the trail can be covered with snow. Check the conditions before you go.
My Goto Hiking Footwear: La Sportiva Wildcat
If you hike a lot or just want the best (but not the most durable) hiking footwear, the Wildcat trail runner is your best move. It’s fast and light on trails, the sole gives me good grip off-trail or scrambling, and they dry quickly.
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Best All-Around Day Pack: Osprey Talon
I try so many backpacks and I can usually find something I love about all of them. But no matter how many I try, I always find that I come back to the Osprey Talon 33 (or for women, the Osprey Sirrus 36). It’s just the right balance between everything. You save weight because there is no frame, but the vented and padded back holds its shape, giving it a pseudo-frame. It’s big enough for long day hikes or overnighters, but when I don’t fill it on a shorter hike, it’s still nice and light. It’s got a sleeve for a hydration bladder and side pockets for Smartwater bottles. I’ve been using (and beating) the same one since 2017 and it’s still going strong.
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Stay Safe Out of Cell Phone Range
If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Garmin InReach Mini (REI | Amazon | My Review) fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing.
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated December 2020.
No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.
Black Mountain Trail Maps
Overall the trail is easy to follow, except for the last small stretch before the summit. The trail can get mildly overgrown in places during the spring.
Download the Hike GPX FileView a Printable PDF Hike Map
How are you going to navigate this hike?
To start, you should always have a paper map and compass. And it helps to print this guide out or save it on your phone. I highly recommend a GPS as well. I use the Garmin Fenix 6 smart GPS watch ( REI | Amazon | My Review) with maps (or the more affordable Garmin Instinct). You can also use most smartphones. Check out my navigation recommendations and resources on my top gear picks page for options at all budget levels.
- A fire tower has been on Black Mountain (7,772 feet) since 1926, but the one you see now was built in 1962. It’s staffed by volunteers and you can usually go up and have a look around, but please be polite and respectful.
- There are 50 “Black Mountains” in the geographic registry for California. The official name of this peak is “Black Mountain #1” since it’s the tallest of the 8 “Black Mountains” in southern California.
- There are some good bouldering spots along the Black Mountain Trail. Look for hikers with big mats on their back. They are going bouldering.
- The trailhead is close to the fire station, which is home to the Vista Grande Hotshots, and you can sometimes see them training on this trail. They hike up and down carrying their fire gear. Those guys are tough.
- Okay, let’s talk about the giant sequoias. In 1974 in nearby Hall Canyon, there was a fire, and afterwards the Forest Service planted about 150 giant sequoias there. Today they are growing, scattered around the Black Mountain Trail. Don’t expect to see huge trees like Grizzly Giant, but if you know what to look for, you can spot some. If you want a full rundown of all the tree positions and their (re)discovery, read this study by Mena and Rudold Schmid.
Black Mountain Trail to the Fire Lookout Hike Directions
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Turn by Turn Directions
On some maps you’ll see the Cinco Poses Trail coming in from the right. Don’t look for it. Whatever was there is long overgrown.
You can also just skip the campground and head back the way you came up.
Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.